Cutting, burning, scratching, hitting, or biting oneself is often called “self-harm.” Self-harm refers to the deliberate act of causing physical harm to oneself. It is typically done to cope with emotional pain, distress, or overwhelming feelings.

For example, a teenager feels very upset after an argument with their mom because they got a bad school report – or because they are dating and their families do not approve. 

Feelings of distress can be very overwhelming. Then the teen might experience the urge to cut to calm down. Some teens say that “seeing the blood come out” calms them. Others say that hurting themselves helps them understand why they are so upset. Some teens get so used to self-harm to cope with negative emotions that they store the tools they need and regularly use the same tool.

Self-harm is not an effective way of dealing with distress.

Most people who hurt themselves feel lonely and defeated afterward. Self-harm can become a very painful circle: argument, feelings of distress, self-harm, feeling shame.

Many researchers and doctors have tried to understand self-harm. What we know is that many people who hurt themselves have been hurt before. Self-harm is linked to childhood trauma, abuse, family conflict, and negative experiences with peers. Most people who self-harm can recover from it, but many need help from professionals to learn better ways to cope and to help their families understand what’s happening. 

Self-harm can be a sign of underlying mental health issues that require professional attention and support. For example, self-harm can be related to depression, low self-esteem, and feeling unloved and misunderstood. People who get help feel better and learn how to manage their emotions and conflicts in a way that leaves them feeling empowered. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with self-harm, go to the “GET HELP NOW” page and chat with a caring professional for free. In Healthy Minds Philly you can access a free Live Chat. If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health or a suicidal crisis, call 988. When you call 988, you will be connected with a warm, trained professional who is there to help you.